Final Blog

The late Robert Mapplethorpe is known for his provocative photographs – many of which either feature nude men and women or represent human sexuality. In the 1980’s Mapplethorpe’s photographs were originally released and then banned due to the controversy that arose surrounding their obscenity. Mapplethorpe’s work has now resurfaced and is on display at The Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

After visiting the exhibit at The Getty Museum we decided to take our own photographs to represent our interpretation of his work. Our photographs focus largely on the objectification of the human form.

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Left: Ken and Lydia and Tyler

Right: Flower

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Left: Untitled

Right: Curling Iron

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Left: Lisa Lyon

Right: Heel

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Left: Flower with Knife

Right: Scissors

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Top: Ajitto

Bottom: Lipstick

For more information:

New York Times

Mapplethorpe Portfolio

Visit The Getty

Mercer, K.. (1991). Looking for Trouble [Review of Robert Mapplethorpe.]. Transition, (51), 184–197. http://doi.org/10.2307/2935086

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Happily Never After

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If you know me, you know that one of my favorite lines to say when I hear even a whisper of marriage is “marriage is a patriarchal construct.” I say it almost jokingly but it is absolutely true. However, marriage has far more flaws than even the ever-present patriarchy could ensue. Marriage attempts to create a clear-cut timeline for every man, woman, and child and it is the supposed end all, be all for a life well spent.

It is a tale as old as time that to live a happy and fulfilling life one must get married, have a family, and stay with their betrothed until they die. This tale has been spun and overtly romanticized in just about every romantic comedy that has been produced by the bloated Hollywood institution. In these all too predictable tales of fake love, marriage is the ultimate end goal of the protagonist’s quest, especially when the lead is a woman. Take Sex and the City  for example. As Halberstam puts it in Gaga Feminism, “the wedding is the ‘cum shot’ of the romantic comedy” (page 115).

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So why is there such a push to allow same-sex marriage? Why does the LGBTQ+ community want to subject themselves to this oppressive and heteronormative shit show of an institution? These are the questions Jack Halberstam asks and I agree to a certain degree with her rejection of gay marriage.

Halberstam argues that gay, lesbian, and trans people only want to be allowed their marriage rights because they are being “defined by the opposition” (page 104). They label this mindset and strategy as reactive politics and it reminds me of a concept discussed by Foucault in which all revolutions and/or movements have been born out of oppression. Every obstacle that has been overcome would not have been so had it not been for a certain oppressive power inspiring action.

Now I understand why Halberstam is asking why LGBTQ+ people want to get married when it’s such a problematic institution. However, I don’t think that they are against gay marriage, I think they are against marriage all together. The argument that I’m sure many queer people have made after reading this book is that marriage may have its flaws, but all people no matter gender or sexual orientation should be allowed the option to subject themselves to the horrors (and I suppose happiness) of marriage. They should have the right even after seeing “the institution of marriage stand naked and revealed, replete with all of its disappointments and coercive aspects” to “march in the streets for the rights to enter in to the mayhem and mishap of holy matrimony” (Haberstam, page 122).

So instead I say that we strive to stop putting all this pressure and importance on marriage itself. I believe it should be legal for every person to have the option of marriage but again, why would you want that? And why to gay people in particular want that? After all, according to Sean Griffin “weddings in particular underscore the theatricality of heterosexuality” (Hetero, Queering Representations of Straightness, page 5). When people get married, “heterosexuality is conspicuously displayed with the community supporting or enforcing its standards of sexual identity” (Griffin, page 5).

Weddings are just this parade of overpriced gowns and cakes to bind two people together in the eyes of the government to reinforce the hegemonic idea that you must get married to be happy in life. The very idea of marriage is nothing near being queer. It goes against so many things that queer people stand for. It goes against what certain feminists (including myself) stand for, as they have tried for years to knock marriage from its so-called throne in the “gendered imaginary” and now as Halberstam puts it, “it is ironic to see marriage as an unquestioned good and a worthy goal in a gay imaginary” (page 112).

I understand that gay, lesbian, and trans people want to get married in order to queer a very traditional and old institution. People believe that if they’re gay and get married, they will unravel the problems that have occurred due to marriage for years. However, just because one is gay, that does not mean that problems that happen in marriage all too often won’t occur. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be unfaithful and it does not mean you won’t contribute to the sly-rocketing divorce rate because in marriage or in any institution “before you change it, it changes you” (Haberstam, page 97).

Sources:

“The Princess Bride GIF – Find & Share on GIPHY.” GIPHY. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2016.
Griffin, Sean. Hetero: Queering Representations of Straightness. Albany, NY: SUNY, 2009. Print.
Halberstam, Judith. Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal. Boston: Beacon, 2012. Print.
“Sarah Jessica Parker Sets the Record Straight on ‘Sex and the City 3′” TODAY.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2016.

 

Why Stifle Greatness?

Robert-Mapplethorpe

After attending the Getty Museum and seeing the Mapplethorpe (which is pronounced maple-thorp apparently) exhibit, I chose one photograph that evoked strong emotion.

The name of the photograph is “Ken and Lydia and Tyler” and it depicts two males and one female of varying racial backgrounds and ethnicities. The models are nude and their faces and heads are cut out of the picture showing only their bodies in a sort of embrace. The two men embrace the woman by holding each other’s hands in front of her vagina.

In the Getty’s description of the photograph, it is said that Mapplethorpe is drawing inspiration from a classic Greek sculpture know as “The Three Graces.” The Getty says that Mapplethorpe chose the models of different races to “achieve a range of skin tone” and to demonstrate “new, nonbinary interpretations of gender, race, and sexual preference.” In the original Three Graces sculpture, there are three women who are the daughters of Zeus and are named Thalia to represent youth and beauty, Euphrosyme to represent mirth, and Aglaia to represent elegance.

In pretty much every critique of this picture, I found that Mapplethorpe was being applauded for his innovation and his intersectionality by bringing in both men and women and by making them different races. The more I looked at the reactions to the picture, however, the more surprised I became. I kept asking myself, am I the only person who thinks this photo is misogynistic? Am I really the only one that sees this as a depiction of a woman’s sexuality being stifled by men? Or is it that I’m just trained by habit to see these types of faults?

Before I continue on my so-called feminist rant, let me make something clear. I understand that Mapplethorpe is an artists who preferred men and as such enjoyed photographing them in sexual ways more so than women. But does that give him a pass to use men to cover up the female sexuality when he does show women? The woman in this photograph is completely nude, with her attractive body and full breasts on display. But the one thing that is at the core of her sexuality — her glorious pussy — is being covered, by men no less. Am I to dismiss this because Mapplethorpe is “more than the controversy?” Does this not hint at the way women are portrayed in media time and again in our society?

Women are constantly being objectified. We are scantily clad in magazines, are overly sexualized in movies, and are demeaned in music. But as soon as a woman shows that she actually has a sex drive, that her sexuality is a real aspect of her being, she is called a slut, whore, etc. It is literally the oldest story in the book. The thing I find most troubling about this photograph is that her vagina is being covered by two men. It’s so blatantly problematic I honestly cannot believe no one is talking about it.

Mapplethorpe can be quoted saying, “Art is an accurate statement of the time in which it is made.” In the 1980’s, I’m sure this photo would not be seen as controversial, especially in relation to Mapplethorpe’s other work (i.e. bullwhip asshole). However, in the time of third wave feminism which encourages female sexual empowerment, I see red flags until my eyes glow. It’s important when analyzing art to analyze through your point of view. It is not always necessary to take into account the intent of the artist. Mapplethorpe may not have “meant” to stifle the female sexuality but the fact is that he did in my opinion and I will not apologize for how I feel just because I may be reading too much into it.

The cultural oppression of female sexuality may not be with malicious intent or with any intent at all. The suppression may come from “the implicit cooperation among large numbers of people working together to stifle female sexuality without full awareness of what they’re doing” (Baumeister, Twenge, p. 1). Mapplethorpe may not have known what he was doing and may have been simply photographing what he liked, but it is impossible for me not to connect it to the way that women are oppressed even in today’s supposedly progressive society.

I will leave you with this quote that leaves me still loving Mapplethorpe even though he infuriates me at times — “My whole point is to transcend the subject, go beyond the subject somehow, so that the composition, the lighting, all around, reaches a certain point of perfection.”

Sources:

“Victoria and Albert Museum.” , Digital Media Webmaster@vam.ac.uk. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.
Baumeister, Roy F., and Jeane M. Twenge. “Cultural Suppression of Female Sexuality.” Review of General Phsycology (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
“Robert Mapplethorpe.” Famous Americans RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.

 

Wait He’s Black AND Gay?

In Nero’s article, “Why are the Gay Ghettos White,” the portrayal of black gay men in media, the struggles black gay men face with house, and the struggles they endure in general were discussed. The argument that I found most persuasive, however, was the way that black gay men are portrayed in the media.

Black men in films and television shows often do not have their sexuality taken seriously if it is any other than heterosexual. They are forced into being the picture of masculinity whether they are gay or not. For example as Nero quotes in the article in Lianna (1983) a college football coach says the following line, “I found out in the middle of the season that he, uh you know, he liked guys. I mean, he was a black kid. I didn’t even know they had him that way!” (Nero, p. 5). This comment pretty much sums up the racist and homophobic discourse that black gay men have to deal with. It’s as if he’s saying that first, black men can’t be gay, and second that since he played football and was a strong athlete, that his gayness is not in line with his supposed masculinity.

 

Black gay men are also not taken seriously in their overall appearance in film and television. They are portrayed as imposters in their own skin. They are also often shown as they character that corrupts another (usually white) character into doing drugs, alcohol, etc. In the film, “Six Degrees of Separation” Paul played by Will Smith is eventually exposed to be “just another black gay hustler” (Nero, p. 6). He’s even blamed for the seduction and the suicide of a “naive, young white male from the American heartland” (Nero, p.6).

I find this argument the most persuasive because I have seen everything that Nero discusses first hand in the films I have seen with black gay men. They are seen as the hustlers who are overly masculine and who seduce naive and innocent white men. By portraying them as these problematic characters, they are never able to be fully accepted into queer cultures. They are forced into being these caricatures of themselves in order to get a role in a movie or show.

There wasn’t a specific argument that I found to be the least persuasive. However, I did find it troubling that Nero’s article had little to no mention of the struggles of black gay women. I understand that he is focusing on the struggles that black gay men must face in regards to masculinity but I feel that it’s important to at least touch on another perspective.

Sources:

“WGSS 73 Blog: Intro to Queer Studies, Fall 2014.” : Charles I. Nero: Why Are the Gay Ghettos White? Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

“16 LGBT Black Celebrities.” Ranker. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

XXY Intersecting With Sympathy

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The film XXY was difficult to watch. It was difficult to witness such pain, suffering, and violation. In this film Ines Efron plays a 15 year old intersex person named Alex. In the beginning of the movie Alex’s parents pressure her into “choosing” the gender identity of a woman by having her take pills to prevent her body from becoming masculine whether that be facial hair, or interrupted menstrual cycles. It is clear that the parents want Alex to receive the operation to “fully” become a woman so that she doesn’t have to keep hiding her supposed abnormality. Alex’s parents even have a plastic surgeon come to their home to stay for an extended period of time to assess Alex’s situation and possibly convince her to agree to the gender correction surgery. However, he does not come alone. He brings his wife and his son who is named Alvaro, played by Martin Proyansky.

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Incidentally, Alex and Alvaro begin a rather awkward and confrontational relationship. To be more specific, Alex discusses with Alvaro about his jacking off that she claimed to know about and asked if he would have sex with her (XXY, 7:55). This is all after Alex not having known Alvaro for more than an hour. He says that she is too young but later on in the film Alex brings it up again which angers Alvaro. He responds by saying, “You’re not normal. What’s wrong with you?” (XXT, 30:00). This prompts Alex to run away in a fervor of anger and shame to hide in her bed in the barn. After Alvaro sees how hurtful his words were he runs after her. Here is where the entire plot shifts into something vastly more complicated. Alex and Alvaro begin to kiss and undress each other but as Alvaro goes to touch Alex and penetrate her, Alex flips him on his stomach to fuck him with her member. Alex’s dad happens to see this all unfold through a crack in the door and Alex and Alvaro see him too.

Although Alex’s dad, Kraken played by Ricardo Darin, had been wanting her to take the pills to keep her feminine, he really just wants her to be happy and he wants what he thought was best for her. In a scene with the plastic surgeon, Ramiro, Kraken describes the feeling he experienced when Alex was born. He said, “I convinced her [the mom] not to do anything. She was perfect. From the moment I set eyes on her. Perfect” (XXY, 1:09:09). He didn’t think anything was wrong with Alex but he also wanted her to be who she felt that she was. After he sees Alex having sex with Alvaro he was distraught at first as is to be expected. What makes me feel sympathetic towards him however is how adamantly he advocates for his daughter’s well being. Instead of lashing out at Alex after seeing that she may want to be a man instead of a woman, he sees a transgender man to gain insight into the process of the transition. He then discusses with Alex that she can choose herself whether she wants to be a man or a woman. I sympathize with his confusion about his daughter’s sexuality but I admire the way that he handles it, to a certain extent.

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There is one issue I found with the way Alex’s dad went about the situation that I do not have as much sympathy for. When he discussed the concept of the decision of her gender being in Alex’s hands, he implied there were only two options. Either she gets the surgery to be a woman or a man. He perpetuates the concept of the gender binary and implies that what she has is something to be decided upon rather than just let be. Alex responds by saying, “What if there isn’t a decision to make? (XXY, 1:16:58).

She is proposing that maybe she can stay who she is. She is saying that the norms that are currently present in society don’t have to dictate her choices or lack thereof.

This story depicts the cruelty and mental torment that Alex faces in the wake of her being intersex. At one point, she is held down by three men while they try to force her to let them see her genitalia. She had to change schools several times because of the bullying her classmates inflicted upon her. She had to hide who she was all her life. By the end of the film, we see the ways in which her dad helped her to come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be. He helps her work through her inner torment and he allows her to finally have a say in the way she will live her life. Although he isn’t perfect, I can sympathize with his journey to acceptance.

Sources:

XXY. Dir. Lucia Puenzo. Perf. Ines Efron, Ricardo Darin, Martin Piroyansky. 2007. Netflix.
“XXY | Film Review | Slant Magazine.” Slant Magazine. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
“Extended Thoughts on XXY.” The Delirious Dramaturg. 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.
“Our Films.” XXY. Web. 26 Mar. 2016.

Is He Gay Or Just Metro?

“Heteronormativity” is a word that is often used in queer theory as the thing that we should be fighting against. It is the concept that alienates all other forms of sexuality and gender expression. However, the word itself is far too limiting for people that may fall under the category of heterosexual because not all people that are heterosexual are heteronormative.

And so brings me to the concept of metrosexuality and its ties to straight queerness. For someone to be “metro” they are usually male and it simply means that they invest in their appearance more than their male peers. In our urban, post-industrial, and capitalist culture there is more and more pressure for people to look a certain way and this does not exclude men. If any of you have ever seen New Girl, Schmidt is a perfect example of a metrosexual character. Schmidt can be quoted talking about his missing his driving moccasins or his crochet cleats and his undying love for mango “chut-i-ney.”

What I personally like about Schmidt and pretty much all metro guys is that they are so comfortable in their masculinity and sexuality that they can care about what they look like without saying “that’s gay” or some other offensive bullshit like that. Heterosexuality is not always heteronormative. One can be attracted to those of their opposite sex and not fall under this seemingly all-knowing umbrella of heteronormativity. As Sean Griffin puts in Hetero, Queering Representations of Straightness, “Heteronormativity hegemonically negotiates heterosexual desire itself, attempting to assert one ‘proper’ heterosexuality and deny or pathologize the multiple other forms of heterosexuality that exist” (p. 5).

This reminds me of the hashtag that started a while ago called #MasculinitySoFragile. This hashtag is trying to point out how insecure heterosexual guys can be when it comes to their own masculinity especially in the face of difference. When these types of guys come into contact with a metro guy they say things like “Oh you like to moisturize? That’s so gay!” Anything that threatens their own form of heterosexual expression must be pathologized and rejected.

For example in Flirting With Disaster with Ben Stiller when one of the character’s sons is about to get a truck driving lesson and the mother expresses concern for her son’s safety, the father immediately responds, “Are you saying my son is a bitch boy?” (Heffernan, p.194). The mere thought of the son not being able to perform a heteronormative “manly” task such as driving a truck makes the father extremely defensive. Heterosexual guys are supposed to like sports and cars and being messy. They are not supposed to care about crochet cleats or mango chut-i-ney.

Of course there are countless variations of hetersexuality because, “Heterosexual identity is more than just or only patriarchy and concepts of gender” (Griffin, p. 4). You can be queer while still being heterosexual because not all heterosexuality is heteronormative.

Sources:

“24 Hilarious Schmidt Quotes That Will Never Get Old.” BuzzFeed. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

Griffin, Sean. Hetero: Queering Representations of Straightness. Albany, NY: SUNY, 2009. Print.

Portlandia and Bisexuality

The show “Portlandia” starring Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen, is known for being quirky and eccentric. It depicts the daily life of a series of couples played by Fred and Carrie in Portland, Oregon which also has the slogan, “Keep Portland Weird.” One of the couples in this show is just Fred and Carrie playing themselves and the adventures they get into within the city. However in season 3, episode 9 of Portlandia, the two characters actually take a sort of inadvertent social stance by both engaging in a relationship with their roommate Alexandra. They both like her in a romantic way and decide to both date her and see which one of them she chooses. The reason I love this episode is because they never acknowledge that anything is abnormal in regards to the relationship even though it’s obvious that Carrie and Alexandra are bisexual. They are both simply dating someone they find attractive and it doesn’t matter which gender that person identifies as.

It is notable that bisexuality is seldom discussed in terms of queer theory. As Steven Angelides says in Historicizing (Bi)Sexuality: A Rejoiner for Gay/Lesbian Studies, Feminism, and Queer Theory, “Bisexuality is the third term in the hetero/homosexual binary that has absorbed and regulated the contradictions inherent to the (re)production of modern binarized sexual definition” (Angelides, p. 137). According to this account of bisexuality, the current binary that sexuality is defined as is actually a trinary. There is a third section of sexuality that has been glossed over and labeled as simply “queer.” As a result, those who identify as bisexual has been elided in the discussion of queer theory. To be more specific, the gay and lesbian community and discussion has come to “occupy the subversive ‘frontier position’ of homosexuality” (Angelides, p. 151). Homosexuality should not just include gay people and lesbians. Homosexuality should include those who are attracted to their own gender and those of another gender.

Although, bisexuality within itself is geared towards the gender binary. This means that someone who is bisexual is attracted to both males and females. This is not to be confused with pansexual which goes further than the binary to include transgender, intersex, genderqueer, dual gender, and so on.

And so with that idea of bisexuality in mind, let’s further discuss the ways in which Portlandia encompasses what Angelides was trying to explain. Throughout the show, Carrie has romantic partners who are usually male. However in the episode titled, Alexandra, Carrie engages in a romantic relationship with her female roommate Alexandra. By doing so, Carrie shows another side to her sexuality. This side shows that she is sometimes attracted to other women. She is not 50% gay or 50% straight, she is simply 100% bisexual. Her attraction to other women can be romantic and include intercourse or it can simply be dating without having sex. Being bisexual does not mean that you have to have sex with people of your same gender. It can just mean that sometimes you become aroused at the thought of kissing or touching another woman. Bisexuality is a spectrum and it refutes that idea that “the two axes [hetero/homosexuality] are vertical or hierarchical rather than relational or oblique” (Angelides, p. 151).

Personally, I identify as bisexual. Although my romantic and sexual partners thus far have all been male, I still feel sexually attracted to other women in varying degrees. If given the opportunity, I would engage in a romantic relationship with another woman but whether that would include having sex, I do not know. The point is that I am not heterosexual and I am not homosexual because “bisexuality cannot be represented through these binary formulations, blurring as it does any distinction of their terms” (Angelides, p. 136). That is why I identify with Carrie’s character in Portlandia. She does not limit herself to the heteronormativity of sexuality and therefore is open to experience both male and female romantic relationships.

Portlandia ~ Season 3, episode 9 can be found on Netflix. Enjoy!

Sources:

Lovaas, Karen. LGBT Studies and Queer Theory New Conflicts, Collaborations, and Contested Terrain. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013. Print.